Jamal Hill Aims To Teach One Million People How To Swim

By Melissa Zhang | April 23, 2019, 2:10 p.m. (ET)

Jamal Hill competes at the World Para Swimming World Series meet in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Jamal Hill competed in two of the World Para Swimming World Series meets this April, earning two personal bests in Indianapolis. 

For U.S. Paralympics Swimming team member Jamal Hill, his athletic career is just one part of his mission.

Besides hoping to represent the United States at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and future competitions, Hill is also working towards a much larger goal:

He wants to teach one million people to swim.

“My mission is to have an impact. I want to be more than just an athlete,” the 24-year-old said. “In order to build something that will outlast me, I have to get out there and help people. I want to be more in the teaching lane instead of just the entertaining lane.”

The Inglewood, California, native has already been teaching people to swim in Los Angeles for the past nine years. He estimates that he has already taught hundreds of people in his community by now.

“You’d be amazed at how many people have this distinct fear of the water,” Hill said. “I would even count a success as someone growing comfortable enough to take a swim lesson with me.” 

Through filming video tutorials, conducting outreach with Boys & Girls Clubs and growing his personal brand on social media, Hill has already begun to reach people outside of his hometown.

 “Chances are, I may not personally teach that many people to swim,” Hill said. “But the beauty of the time that we live in is that this technology gives us the ability to reach the whole world. Now I'm leveraging what I'm doing on a professional level to reach more people.”

 

Hill was one of 47 athletes named to the 2019 U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Team roster in January. But his journey to Paralympic sport wasn’t an easy one.


From a young age, Hill had a feeling that his body was different. He struggled with some basic movements and was hospitalized for a few weeks as a young boy after becoming paralyzed when he got the flu.

“On some base level, I always knew something was up,” Hill said. “There were just certain things that I couldn’t do.”

But it wasn’t until Hill was 23 that his parents told him specifically that he had a condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological condition that affects the muscles in his arms and legs.

They were trying to protect me by not letting me in on the whole thing,” Hill said. “They kept it low-key and instilled this “no-excuse” mentality in me. They would tell me to just practice; whatever it was, just try. ‘You’ll probably find a way’.”

In competing against able-bodied swimmers over the years despite his physical limitations, Hill learned how to be resilient.

The playing field is much more even now.

Hill gained valuable experience from competing at the World Para Swimming World Series stop in Indianapolis this month, during which he met veterans like Brazil’s 14-time Paralympic medalist Andre Brasil and logged personal bests in both the 100-meter backstroke and freestyle.

“I got to hear [Andre’s] two cents about my swimming, which was really valuable and beneficial,” Hill said. “Honestly, I felt like I was in school. There were so many learning lessons that it really put me in the position to come back home for those next two weeks and change some things.”


The learning hasn’t stopped there. Hill is one of 10 Americans competing this week at the world series stop in Glasgow, Scotland, his second international competition this month.

“Here in Scotland, it's going to be a really good opportunity to showcase my maturity and abilities as an athlete.” Hill said.

 

Hill hopes to be a contender for Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.

 

But he especially has his sights set on Los Angeles 2028, when the Paralympic Games will be held in his own backyard, where he began his mission of teaching one million people to swim. Where it all started.

 

“It all comes back to legacy,” Hill said. “I think that's what my life is about, trying to do something that will outlast me.”